I posted on social media recently about my marriage and how grateful I felt to know the true love that has come with the experience of being in a committed relationship with my husband, as opposed to the fleeting emotional highs of the “falling in love” stage. True love is the kind of love that isn’t based on feelings. It’s in the day to day, the month to month, the year to year. It’s when someone actively loves you through your darkest days and your brightest moments. Our society promotes us to chase happiness and feelings and teaches us next to nothing about what it looks like to love unconditionally. To love without conditions. Can we all repeat that? It’s such a powerful statement. To love without conditions.
This topic is especially near and dear to my heart as it relates to the relationships affected by infertility, loss, and the ever-stressful journey of adoption. You’ve probably heard it said already, but when these factors are present in a relationship, especially over the course of many years, divorce rates increase. And that’s not cool with me.
That said, the post opened up an amazing discussion, especially one on one with a few people who wanted to know how my husband and I are working to love each other better each day. To say they were looking for advice would be true, but that also makes me cringe, because I am the first to admit that we are just as flawed and imperfect as the next family. Needless to say, I had to be frank and let everyone who asked know that we’ve had our fair share of dark seasons, especially through losing our children and through adopting our son.
As we have pressed through and pushed forward, I can see how little choices and little mindset shifts have made all the difference for us. So I’m here today to share with you some of the marriage-strengthening tips that have worked for us in hopes that they might inspire anyone who feels like their in the thick of the dark.
The first thing I’ll say is that we are very pro-counseling. And yes, this is even true when only one of you agrees to go. It’s absolutely ideal if both parties agree to go together or separately, but if your spouse isn’t there yet, go by yourself! If anything, you’ll be able to process through difficulties and at the same time learn some amazing coping tools. Plus, counselors can still walk you through ways to deal directly with your spouse through what you tell them, and the way that you respond to your spouse in the hard moments can be a total gamechanger. If you feel like counseling is out of your budget, be sure to check with your insurance company. Sometimes they have amazing plans and coverage and we just don’t know it. If not, check locally for practices that offer scholarships and then apply. We applied for a counseling scholarship and got it!
My husband and I have been to counseling twice. Once after our first daughter passed away, and again after our second daughter passed away. And honestly–I’m positive we’ll continue to go back everytime we hit a rough patch. We strongly believe that counseling is good for good times and bad times. If you’re in a healthy spot, it might seem counterintuitive to talk to a counselor, but just as we use vitamins, supplements, and preventative health tools to keep our physical bodies well, it can be extremely valuable to add these same preventative-type tools to our relationships.
One of the biggest mindset shifts I had to do personally was to remember who we were as a couple before loss, infertility, and adoption came into the picture. I frequently reminisce on what brought us together, and it’s one of our favorite things to talk about. I challenge you to plan a date with your spouse where the only topic you’re allowed to cover the entire time is how you met and fell in love. Or maybe just identify together which topics totally stress you out and make it a point to put them on the “off-limits” list for the entire date.
A powerful tool we keep in mind throughout our relationship is speaking words that are life-giving. This is like “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” except the grown up version. (Although the simple version is a great thing to carry into our relationships as well.) I’m a huge fan of speaking life over all situations, in that our words and mind are powerful tools that can be used to build up or destroy. In the midst of an incredibly hard season of marriage, Chris and I sat down with two pieces of paper, and we each wrote down ten things that we love about each other. They didn’t have to be deep or profound, they just needed to be true. Basically what I’m saying is that I was allowed to admire how my husband can literally fix anything and how I love that he provides for our family, and then after that I could say that I liked his butt. The only rule was that when we were finished, we had to take turns reading the list. He read one, then I read one, and you can practice this fun game every day or every week or whenever you want. I highly recommend it after an especially stressful day. If your spouse doesn’t want to play, write down ten anyway and read them off to them.
Something we realized we had gotten so bad at through the stress of life was prioritizing date nights. I know it seems like a no-brainer, but like, when is the last time you guys went on a date?! Dates don’t have to be expensive, it could be as simple as cooking a meal together after the kids are in bed, or spending the evening at a park or simply walking around a cool part of town. But the key is to be alone and to be intentional with your time.
This next topic is a sensitive one, but it’s so important: intimacy. Yes, I mean physical intimacy. Without getting too graphic, let me touch on the fact that I know that for our family, as well as many others dealing with infertility and loss, physical intimacy can be a huge trigger of emotional turmoil in a marriage. Especially for women, intimacy can remind us of all of the things we do not want to be thinking about in those moments, like how we may not be able to have biological kids or maybe it reminds us of a loss we’ve experienced or maybe it reminds us of a stressful adoption or lack thereof. But hear me when I say this: it is so important to engage anyway. Engage, initiate, talk about it, whatever, just bring physical intimacy to the forefront. A woman’s mind is a complex place, and it can be easy to shut down the parts that frequently remind us of pain. This was the case for me and it is the case for so many other friends I’ve talked to.
I learned recently that the emotional connection I (and most women) get through quality time and intentional conversation is the exact same emotional connection most men get through intimacy. Whereas we long to process through our stressful day and connect with our husbands through spending quality time together and having them truly listen to us, men seek and find that same fulfillment through physical intimacy with us. I used to feel like I couldn’t dare think about spending time in bed with my spouse if my emotions were all over the place and I hadn’t “connected emotionally” with him in days, but I realized that he wanted the same thing, he just wanted it in a different way. For example, I would have a rough week dealing with grief and stress, and before Chris and I would have a chance to spend time talking and hanging out, he’d be pursuing physical intimacy and my gut response would be to shut him down for “neglecting” my feelings. But realizing how we differed in this area allowed me to see his acts of pursuit as an emotional connection rather than a selfish motive. We also got a good laugh out of the fact that I couldn’t believe our heartfelt conversations didn’t make him feel any more or any less “emotionally connected” to me.
There’s so much more I feel like I could say, but I’ll end on this one: so many arguments of ours are now diffused and shut down by simply reminding each other in the heat of the moment that we are on the same team. It can be so easy, especially during a fight, to feel like you are two opposing forces, but chances are that if you are in a loving relationship, you both truly do want what’s best for your family. You both may see different routes to get you there, which is often the cause of the tension, but deep down your intention is not to harm your spouse or your family. Reminding each other of this often “resets” the conflict and allows the two of you to brainstorm together, weighing the pros and cons of each of your points. If you find, like we sometimes do, that we’re actually just fighting for no reason at all (or because Jordan is hungry or tired or, God forbid, hasn’t had enough coffee) then it’s way easier to just stop and hug it out and move on with the day.
Because every relationship is different, we’d love to hear what does and doesn’t work for you! What kinds of things do you and your partner like to do to strengthen your relationship?